Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Jam on Tam: a classic I didn't know existed!

Does Jam on Tam resonate with you? Am I the only one who thought that was Greg or Todd's invention? I have to love that ultra running is so humbling, a never ending experiment in which you always learn something, a sport in which there are always people having done more and harder stuff than what you just did or thought was doable!

Living in the Bay Area, I had my fair share of seeing pictures of people summiting Mount Tamalpais, on a weekly basis, if not daily. And I've seen that mountain top many times, racing in the Marin Headlands for more than 10 years (Miwok 100K, Headlands Hundred miles or 50K, Quad Dipsea, Tamalpa 50K, etc.). But another super popular place which I felt embarrassed for not having visited yet.

My previous two posts were about two of the three Open Courses constituting the Bay Area Open Course Triple Crown, Streak to Mission Peak and Hum up Um. With Jam on Tam being the third one. All under 8 miles, how hard could that be, I thought... Let's do them over 7 days, Mission Peak on Sunday, Mount Umunhum on Thursday and Mount Tam on Saturday!

I had a chat with Greg (Lanctot) on Friday and he mentioned that a gal had just broke YiOu Wang's 38'30" FKT for the ascent (Fastest Known Time), with a new time of 37'03" (Bailey Kowalczyk). He didn't say Jim Walmsley clocked a 30'38" on that course. But he warned me it was a tough one, and asked I'd be careful. Run carefully, I can do! Since several bad falls in mountain races, including breaking my shoulder while training on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I know how to be slow and extra cautious on tricky trails! But Mount Tamalpais isn't a mountain in the Alps or the Rockies, right? At least all the races I've been doing in the area have been on typical smooth trails (except for the Dispea stairs). Well, Jam on Tam is different, read on...

After accompanying me on the two Open Courses, Max got hooked and was all in for starting from the bottom, at the clock tower in Mill Valley, while Agnès and Greg were going to hike from mid way. Max even let me start ahead but, like on Thursday for Hum up Um, that didn't last long. I just didn't have the stamina, started walking before the end of the first mile, still on the streets (the first 1.5 miles are on asphalt).

We reached the trail as Agnès and Greg had just found a parking spot, and what a trail for a first comer: straight up! And steep rocky ravine style or irregular stairs.

Oops, so much walking, slogging, barely power hiking. Not really running against the clock at that point, just trying to reach the summit, my first visit to the famous and emblematic fire lookout station! With gorgeous views over the City by the Bay, and the whole Bay as a matter of fact!

I remember checking my Garmin watch and seeing 46' when we were in the last switch backs, actually quite close to the station.

Just underneath though, I noticed on maps.me that we had to leave the trail to climb... oh my... a wall! I was definitely prepared for rock climbing. Nothing difficult but spent a few minutes trying to find our way.

Finally touching the door, 53 minutes in the run, ouch! I already felt like I'd have to come back and redo it on fresh legs.


The down hill starts with another technical trail before we reach a segment of road.

There was a good moving runner ahead who took a trail which didn't look like the one we were supposed to be on. Max and I tried a few other options as I was not sure how long we had to stay on the asphalt section from the maps.me trace. Coming back on that section of road, we crossed three hikers and I almost missed the start of a trail on the left side. I stopped abruptly but Max was still looking to the hikers on the side and hit me at full speed: I couldn't avoid a bad fall on my back, although I was happy my head didn't hit the asphalt. My right but hurt really bad, skin scratches on my back and a bloody hand, it could have been worst, nothing broken at least, phew!

With that, I did what I know best these days, being careful and slow on the next single track section, a wonderful trail if you aren't in a hurry! ;-)

On the fire road, we went all out, crossing quite a few mountain bikers.

Then, after a few other hesitations at the next fire road junction, finally found the trail going straight down to Mill Valley. 1:42:59 total (1:35:19 moving time), I can't believe how long this back and forth took us. Really interested in trying it again now that I know the course.

Here is the corresponding 3D flyover in Relive:

On a very practical matter, I loved the brand new super clean public restrooms on the back of the café and bookstore. We pick-nicked on the Depot Plaza then stopped by the gallery of our friend Emebet (whom we went to Ethiopia with at the end of 2009), the Desta Gallery, just by the course start (exhibits change every 6 weeks, check great artists out!).

A excellent way to start the day, before checking 3 more peaks off our Bay Area 9 Peak Challenge list, Tamalpa being #3 of 9.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Hum up Um: second Open Course and Peak #2/9

Humming up Umunhum. Mount Umunhum that is. Hard to believe I had never ran to this iconic top over our South Bay area, nor hike, ride or drive for that matter. The closest I've been to it was during grueling Quicksilver 100K races which provided great views of it, from beneath.

Agnès and Max had hiked to the top a month ago and said it was a must to do but also reported how busy the single track trail was on weekends. I decided to pick a weekday then and, after a fist morning 7-hour shift (most of my days start with calls with India or the East Coast at 5 am, nowadays...), we drove to the trail head with Max at lunch time.


The weather looked uncertain so I picked long sleeves for a change. A few miles on 85 and it started raining... Oops, it looked like I didn't pick the right day to visit the top of a mountain! March showers kept coming and stopping but, as we were climbing up Hicks Road (I've never driven to that aid station, had no idea about the significant incline), the clouds looked darker and darker and the only vehicles we were seeing were County Park Rangers driving down. That's always encouraging...

Not surprisingly then, the parking lot was empty. With the humidity, I felt chilly right out of the car. At least we had 3.5 miles of uphill to warm up! I took off ahead of Max but, after half a mile, the legs were still feeling tired from the Mission Peak effort and subsequent soreness, even 4 days later. I walked some of the 2nd and 3rd mile, since this was an Open Course race. The trail was turning into a running stream in many places. At the top, the course says you have to go around the mountain top, anti-clockwise. I hesitated as the gate was closed with a sign indicating that the trail was too hazardous given the conditions. But I didn't want to get off the official course, what a dilemma...


Eventually we reached the top in the cloud, so long for the wonderful 360-degree views of the Bay and Santa Cruz which Agnès had sold me, I'll have to go up again in better conditions. A quick selfie as an additional proof, and down we were.

Because of the trail closure, Max ran the mountain top, clockwise. Myself, I got confused on which trail or stair was going down to the parking lot and lost precious seconds. It took me almost two miles of sprinting downhill to catch him, such a great rabbit! :-)

At least we didn't see a soul so that was a plus from a speed standpoint. But I'll have to try again with fresh legs, I may be able to shave a few minutes. For sure, youngsters and speedsters can get well under an hour on that one, although maybe not on a busy weekend or holiday. 1:04:51 for me this round.

As a first experience, I was super happy to see such a well designed and managed trail. It has been open for more than 3.5 years already (September 2017), it seems to age well. And it was really time I get there, finally...

Check this Hum up Um Open Course out, the trip to the top is really worth it if you live in the Bay Area! And look at this 3D flyover to get a preview!

See you soon, virtually, on that... Open Course!